(download the PDF here)
Vote Solar encourages all municipalities in the U.S. to consider adopting the ‘best practices in solar permitting’, outlined in the eight steps below. We also note that the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative is working on developing open-source tools and technical assistance programs for municipalities interested in improving their permitting practices. Resources from the SunShot initiative can be found here.
For more information on how to encourage your city or municipality to come up to best practices, please visit Vote Solar’s Project Permit’s toolkit.
- Post Requirements Online: Information on permit fees, application requirements and process should be easily accessible via the city’s website so applicants can review and prepare materials in advance. Municipalities should provide a submittal checklist of all requirements for rooftop solar PV and solar thermal permitting in a single online location.
- Use a Standard Permit: The majority of small residential PV systems can be processed quickly if they meet clearly defined review requirements. We recommend adopting an expedited permitting review process for these systems that enables review over-the-counter or via electronic processing within one day. The Solar ABC’s Expedited Permit Process for PV Systems provides a good example that can be adopted in full or used as a starting point. (Note, for larger systems, not covered by the Expedited Permit guidelines, municipalities should set and adhere to standard permitting requirements to make the process clear and transparent. The municipality should work to make these standards consistent with neighboring jurisdictions.)
- Enable Online Processing: Moving to a fully online permitting system can significantly reduce travel time for installers and workload for municipalities. We recommend adopting a system that enables submittal, review and approval of PV permits via email or a website.
- Speed up Permitting: Travel to-and-from the building department can be one of the most cost intensive parts of the permitting process for installers. Obtaining a PV permit should require no more than one visit to the building department for properly completed applications.
- Cap Permitting Costs: Using a flat-fee method instead of a value-based method to assess permit fees streamlines the process and ensures that larger solar energy systems are not arbitrarily penalized. Fees should fairly reflect the time needed for city staff to review and issue a permit – that’s something that remains constant regardless of system size. A reasonable residential permit fee should be $250 or less if best practices are followed.
- Adopt Standard Licenses: We recommend accepting NABCEP PV installer and solar thermal certification in lieu of community-specific solar licenses.
- Train Permitting Staff in Solar: Training building department staff to review permits and perform standard fire department checks reduces time and cost. Cities should make one or half-day workshops available to relevant staff. Trainings should be available to both building department plan check and review staff as well as for inspectors. Click here for free online training for code officials, developed by IREC
- Narrow Inspection Appointment Window: Keeping the windows for inspection appointments at or below two hours reduces the amount of costly worker time spent waiting for inspectors to arrive. Inspectors could also call contractors as appointment time grows close to further save time.
- Remove Excessive Reviews and Inspections: Eliminating reviews that do little to validate the safe and efficient operation of a proposed PV system (i.e. plan checks with aesthetic criteria) removes unnecessary costs and expedites permit issuance. For efficiency, we recommend requiring only one inspection for standard rooftop systems on existing homes or businesses.
Questions? Contact Annie Lappé at email@example.com